April 8 marks the Blessing of the Sun.
“The Blessing of the son?” asks my fourth-born, Danny, who coincidentally turns 18 on the same day.
“That too,” I answer. “But first you’re getting up before daybreak, along with Dad and me, to celebrate the ‘s-u-n’ sun.”
“Oh, that’ll never happen,” he replies
But it will. Because the Blessing of the Sun happens only once every 28 years and — for that reason alone — is a must-show milestone. It signifies the sun’s return to the exact time and place it occupied in the heavens on the fourth day of creation, which translates to 6 p.m. on a Tuesday in the month of Nissan.
Originally, I’m guessing, the rabbis of the Talmud envisioned the Blessing of the Sun as a once-a-generation phenomenon. Today, however, with longer life spans, many of us will witness two and maybe three ceremonies, which will continue to occur on April 8 throughout this century.
For Danny, this means the Blessing of the Sun will also fall on his 46th, 74th and, God willing, 102nd birthday. And as sure as the sun shines, however hard he struggles to wake up this April 8, I’m confident that his children, grandchildren and perhaps even great-grandchildren won’t be oversleeping on those mornings.
Its origin can be traced back to the Talmud, which states, “Every 28 years the cycle begins again and the Nissan equinox falls in Saturn, on the evening of Tuesday, the night before Wednesday,” (Berachot 59b). Its calendrical calculations are courtesy of third century Babylonian scholar and astronomer Mar Shmuel.
Never mind that the Jewish version of the vernal equinox bears little resemblance to the more modern Gregorian calendar’s spring kickoff, which occurs unfailingly every March 21. Or that the fourth day of creation was a Tuesday, and we recite the blessing on Wednesday. Or that nothing astronomically unusual even happens on that day.
Historically, the blessing appears to have registered barely a blip on our religious radar. In fact, if the sky is overcast and the sun hidden, we’re permitted to skip the blessing entirely. And sleep in for another 10,227 days.
But here’s the deal. The Blessing of the Sun, like maybe even the Exodus, which we commemorate that evening, is symbolic — and ceremonial.
At the halachic or legally mandated minimum, we go outdoors when we see the first rays of the rising sun — that’s 6:31 a.m. in Los Angeles — face east and recite, “Blessed are you, Lord our God, who makes the works of creation.”
But Judaism is an ever-evolving, communal religion, and thus more elaborate and larger Blessing of the Sun gatherings will be taking place worldwide on mountaintops, ocean beaches and Jewish community center sidewalks. Some celebrants will greet the dawn with choruses of “Here Comes the Sun” and “Let the Sun Shine In.” Others will blow the shofar, dance in circles or meditate. And yoga enthusiasts will undoubtedly perform the multisequenced sun salutation.
In terms of more formal worship, denominationally diverse ceremonies will include the traditional Blessing of the Sun, as well as various talmudic and biblical verses that reference the sun, psalms and other prayers, poems and personal musings.
Some services will focus on the majesty and mystery of the sun, the crucial and self-luminous center of our solar system. Others will bring attention to the earth’s ecological challenges, promoting solar power and other alternative energies for the 21st century.
But keep in mind, whatever your plans, that only 12 hours later, when that same sun sets, there’s an entire haggadah to read.
Much of this celebration’s appeal lies in its obscurity. I mean, miss the memo on Blessing of the Sun, which happens about 10 times less frequently than a blue moon and which practically no one has heard of, and you’re SOL (that’s strictly out of luck) until 2037.
Another draw is its simplicity. We thank God for the sun, this fiery hydrogen and helium mass that stretches about 870,000 miles across and works its astronomical miracles from 93 million miles away, that we normally take for granted. But without it — this source of warmth, light and energy, of radiance and renewal — we couldn’t survive more than a few days. l